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How does Shakespeare convey a feeling of evil in the play ‘Macbeth’?

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Introduction

Hannah Jones 11G English Coursework: Shakespeare 31st October 2000 How does Shakespeare convey a feeling of evil in the play 'Macbeth'? The play 'Macbeth', written by William Shakespeare in 1606, is notable for its bleak portrayal of the uneasy, dark side of human nature that is often ignited by greed and the desire for success. It is questionable whether the complexity of any human quality can be understood completely, so throughout history people have been apt to defy complexity by blaming all they found iniquitous on one stereotypical image - evil - which must be forcibly exterminated. At the time the play was written and first performed, during the reign (in Scotland and England) of King James I, the personification of evil was the witch. 'Macbeth' presents some stereotypical images of evil - after all, it was written for a king who was said to be obsessed with fear of witches (James I wrote a book on witchcraft in 1597). The audience are disturbed by the recurring and grotesque images of destruction, gore and sickness of the evil in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, conveyed in illustrative and rhythmical language, but ultimately the play raises some questions regarding who or what is to blame for the evil in society. One argument is that Lucifer has servants on earth who manipulate our essentially good and virtuous natures; the other is that there is an unsettling side to us that we do not want to believe exists. ...read more.

Middle

During this soliloquy lighting should be dim with a spotlight on her to symbolise her personal journey into being completely polluted with evil. She should shriek loudly and reach out her hands above her - she is demanding, and begging, for an offering from spirits. Her speech conveys a sense of total saturation. The image in line 48: 'And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers', combines with the phlegm-like sound 'k' in 'thick', 'croaks', 'shake' and 'milk' conveys a vision of froth at the top of a full, bubbling, unpleasantly green and bitter liquid - gall, a sour poison that causes sickness, and symbolises the sickness of evil in Lady Macbeth that she wants to replace her feminine (gentle and pleasant) qualities with. Once again the harshly contrasting image of milk - purity and goodness - is used. The most prominent evil creations in 'Macbeth' are used in Act I Scene v. Lady Macbeth talks of a 'raven' - a watchful, chilling bird used extensively as a embodiment of evil and madness in, for example, Edgar Allen Poe's 1845 poem 'The Raven' - and tells her husband to 'look like the innocent flower/ But be the serpent under 't'. Macbeth's behaviour in murdering the king parallels the serpent's role in the Bible when it tempted Adam into eating the forbidden fruit. Thus, him doing so is starkly defying the wishes of God (or supreme goodness). ...read more.

Conclusion

Evil has seeped into every crack of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's lives, rendering it impossible for them to enjoy anything that is inspired by the divine, as sleep is described. The characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have a huge impact on the audience. We witness their personal and separate demises, into evil, madness and then into defeat and death. They wrangle with 'foul' darkness and 'fair' light, and we see these conveyed in contrasting images such as milk and gore. Ultimately, they are both human beings with one fatal flaw - ambition. So tempted are they by the lure of being king and queen that they forsake all morality in favour of evil. They are comparable to Adam and Eve, who were tempted to do a thing they knew went against all morality, and gave in. Shakespeare wrote the play for a time of widespread hysteria, due to ignorance, about witchcraft. For this reason he incorporated in 'Macbeth' three 'weird sisters' who we (even more so for a 17th century audience) automatically presume are evil. However, what they do regarding Macbeth is neutral; they merely predict the future. They are the enticement, but whether to act on the enticement is down to a person's - Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's - own free will. Perhaps the most chilling and evil aspect of 'Macbeth' is not the graphic violence, nor the evil imagery, but the simple fact that each and every person has vices, can give in to temptation, and pure temptation can breed foul and revolting evil that consumes and overwhelms the person. ...read more.

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